Space oddity

Spiritualized’s Jason Pierce on punk rock, lullabies and whether this is the British outfit’s final album

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Perhaps the signature sentiment of Jason Pierce’s career as the frontman and sole permanent member of the band Spiritualized can be found on 1997’s Ladies and Gentlemen We Are Floating In Space: “All I want in life’s a little bit of love to take the pain away”—repeated while a lush, anthemic monolith builds around Pierce’s vocals. 

The album became the Abbey Road for lovers of indie rock. However, on the phone with Pierce (aka J Spaceman) recently from his native England, he shared that discovering a certain Motor City madman at a young age had more of an effect on his trajectory than other classic-rock icons one might assume informed the grand psychedelia of Spiritualized.

“They used to sell LP records in the chemist, in the center of town,” says Pierce, born in Rugby, Warwickshire. “One day, I was flipping through and saw the Stooges’ Raw Power and just fell in love. It made sense in my life. Maybe I saw somebody like an ally: If they can do that, I can do anything. It really did change my world. It felt like I’d discovered this secret. Nobody else knew this record; nobody else knew what it was about.”

Spiritualized—and Pierce’s legendary ’80s project Spacemen 3 before it—doesn’t play straight-ahead punk rock, but Pierce explains that the influence of Iggy Pop, memorialized in the new ballad “Let It Bleed (For Iggy),” is more about playing music that is direct, energetic and easy to understand.

“Somebody in America once said that Spiritualized was like the Stooges for airports,” Pierce says. “I thought that was a nice line. I liked the simplicity of Raw Power. I like that about rock ’n’ roll: ‘Be my baby, be my baby’ is not the most complicated coupling of words, but there’s something deeply magical in it. It allows repetitive play of the same thing over and over, which not many art forms do. You read a novel once; you watch a movie once or twice; but you can put on the same record every day of your life and it’s always part of this beautiful feeling of what it is, and what it holds, almost like a religious icon.”

A quick listen to the Stooges’ “Penetration” or “Gimme Danger” certainly shines a light on what translated for Pierce as a teenager and made its way into Spiritualized’s operatic rock, but a song like “Crazy,” from the group’s new record Everything Was Beautiful, reveals Pierce’s wider love for simple and earnest Americana.

“There is some kind of soul in rock ’n’ roll music that’s dumbed-down, but it’s not dumb,” Pierce says. “It’s not this kind of art form at everybody’s grasp. You’d think that if you’re academic or learned or you have a great vocabulary you could write great songs, but it doesn’t come from that. You try different words, you try different ways of coupling words together and you can take something that’s really local and personal and make it universal. It’s no longer about the author—it’s about the way you feel, and there’s something endlessly fascinating about that.”

“I have a deep love for it; I love the simplicity of rock ’n’ roll, that it’s loud and wrong and it hits it again and again and again. Bo Diddley and Chuck Berry, it’s inherent in that simple form and there’s something really kind of maddening about it.”

“Always Together With You,” which opens Everything Was Beautiful, is maddening in Pierce’s trademark romantic way, with his English-gentleman voice listing sentimental promises like a lullaby as a Beatles-esque slow burn envelops the words. Pierce laughs when asked whether he’s used “Always Together With You” or his other songs as lullabies for his children.

“I think all my songs are lullabies,” he says. “They all sound like nursery rhymes. They’re all sort of that simple. ‘Goodnight Goodnight’ (from 2008’s Songs in A&E) was a song I sang to my children. Now I have two children who may be a bit old to be singing lullabies to, but who doesn’t like a lullaby at any age?”

For an artist who packaged his most famous album as a giant pill and routinely references drugs in his songs, becoming a darkly mysterious ’90s cult rock star as Oasis and Blur found pop prominence, it might be surprising to hear about Pierce singing lullabies. He says the dark cloud around his reputation was mostly smoke and mirrors, however. 

“I think I made a decision when I first got into this not to make music that was hip or music that was fashionable. It seems like the easiest thing in the world to make music like the music next to you that sells the most, like it’s driven by commerce. But maybe it’s kind of by accident or design that we’ve always sat slightly outside of that, and also maybe people give too much away, or maybe people just talk too much. There is this thing now where you’ve got to engage with people every second of the day and tell them what you’re eating or what you’re wearing, what you’re feeling or what you’re thinking. There’s no design in creating some kind of mystery, but…My interest was really in music, so I think it’s more accident than design.”

Speaking of accidents, Pierce says that rumors that Spiritualized’s previous record, 2018’s And Nothing Hurt, was its last were true, and Everything Was Beautiful was recorded at the same time—his label just didn’t think a double album was palatable in modern times. In the end, because Spiritualized records are generally such sweeping opuses of love, releasing one in a time of pandemic and war seems apt.

“There’s never a bad time for a Spiritualized album,” Pierce says, “but in a weird way this one felt timely. The world’s gone a bit crazy, hasn’t it?”

Touring again is another story.

“I still have trepidation, but it feels like what I do. It feels like what we’ve always done. It was amazing meeting up with my band after three years—we just played music and there’s an unmistakable sound that is our sound, you know? The new songs are a joy to play. They’re all one or two chords that feel like we’re inside a John Lee Hooker song or a Stooges song or something, and we’re just exploring this simple structure. There’s something really beautiful about playing songs of that nature.”

Unlike some previous tours, Pierce does not plan to recreate opulent Spiritualized albums with a giant band in giant venues. 

“We’ve had a few rehearsals and these songs are just too simple to play,” he says. “There’s something beautiful about playing one- or two-chord songs. You just kind of stand inside of them and they start to work.”

As the hypnotic rocker “The A Song” from Spiritualized’s new album says, “Heaven is easy and living is tough.” Pierce says he’s not interested in just playing his classic songs on tour and recreating his studio albums for live audiences.

“I kind of wanted to raise the bar with the last two records. If I’m going to make records at my age, they have to be more than just records that allow me to get back on the road to play old material, like they don’t really matter and are just a means to an end. So the last time we went out we only played the new album. This time I’m not sure we’re gonna do that. It sounds more rock ’n’ roll immediately; we’re not a 30-piece band and we’re not in those huge spaces that the record suggests.

“We’re not trying to just present the album as it exists,” Pierce explains. “It exists already, so it’s kind of pointless just coming out and playing that every night, in that form.”

Speaking just a few weeks before Pierce and his band left for Spiritualized’s tour, which kicks off March 31 in Dallas before making its way to the Ogden in Denver on April 4, he spoke about his love affair with the United States.

“Everywhere in America has this kind of romance to it,” he muses. “In England a lot of places are just kind of names on street signs, and you travel to America and you recognize all these names from music and literature. And I’ve got a lot of friends there. I remember being breathless in Colorado because it’s too high up for me, so it’s always this breathless experience in that part of the world, but those beautiful little art-deco theaters. I’m looking forward to it. It feels like a long time. The world stopped for a while. I’m kind of very quietly looking forward to visiting a lot of places again.”

Whether Pierce is finished making records is yet another Spiritualized mystery.

“I’m still kind of considering that,” he says. “Who knows? I don’t even know anymore.” 

ON THE BILL: Spiritualized. 7 p.m. Monday, April 4, Ogden Theatre, 935 E. Colfax Ave., Denver. Tickets: $45-$79

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